Año Santo. Holy Year. How many times have you heard these 2 words in recents weeks? Months even?

2021 is a Holy Year. People have been talking about it for months, either planning their Camino to coincide with it or postponing it for a “regular” year. Then, on December 31, we learned that the Holy Year will be extended until the end of 2022. But do you know what that means? And more importantly, how does that affect the Camino de Santiago?

Next, I’ll try to explain a few basic ideas regarding the Holy Year. And, as usual, you’ll be able to learn some Spanish vocabulary. Let’s start from the beginning. 

 

What is a Holy Year?

Un Año Santo or Jubileo (Jubilee) is a special year in the Catholic Church. During these special years, an indulgence (indulgencia) is granted to those who fulfill certain criteria.

To differentiate it from other Holy Years, the one in Santiago can be referred to as jacobeo (of St. James) or compostelano (from Compostela). You may also see the Galician word Xacobeo to refer to it.

We have an Año Santo Jacobeo or Año Santo Compostelano when July 25, feast of St. James, falls on a Sunday. So, we have a Holy Year in Santiago every 6 (seis), 5 (cinco), 6 and 11 (once) years. The last Holy Year before 2021 was in 2010.

Some sources date the first Año Santo Compostelano in the 12th century but research has shown this to be false. The first documented Holy Year took place in 1424.

 

El Jubileo

In order to obtain the Jubilee or indulgence during Holy Years you must:

  • visit the tomb of St. James and say a prayer for the Pope.
  • confess, 15 days before or after your visit to Santiago.
  • receive holy communion

 

It’s worth noting that getting a jubilee and a compostela are not connected. To get a compostela, you must walk at least the last 100km of any Camino. This will not grant your indulgence. For that, you must fulfill the requirements listed above. And you can travel to Santiago by any means.

In other words, you could drive up to Santiago, visit the tomb of the Apostle, say your prayers and receive confession and communion. You would be receiving the jubileo. But not a compostela. On the other hand, you could walk over 100km to Santiago and not do any of the others things. You could then claim your compostela, but wouldn’t be earning the indulgence.

Music, poetry, history… to celebrate the beginning of the Holy Year 2021

La Puerta Santa

To mark the beginning of a Holy Year, a special ceremony performed by the Archbishop takes place in the cathedral. This happens in the evening of December 31. During this ceremony, the Holy Door or Puerta Santa is opened.

In case you’re wondering what’s so special about a door being opened: the Puerta Santa only gets opened during Holy Years. The rest of the time, it remains closed. At the end of a Holy Year, a new ceremony takes place to close the door again. It will remain closed until the following Año Santo. So, before 2021, the last time people were able to access the cathedral through the Holy Door was in 2010.

During this year’s opening ceremony, a representative of the Pope announced the extension of this Holy Year until the end of 2022. This is due to the special circumstances brought about by the pandemic. The only time a Holy Year was extended before was in 1937-1938 due to the Spanish Civil War.

Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.

 

What about the Camino?

It’s hard to predict what this Holy Year will be like. At the moment, travelling is not an option. Not only for international pilgrims but for those of us who live locally too. As I write this, I can’t go to Santiago. And I live less than 100km away. Both my town and Santiago have perimeter lockdowns in place. That means we can’t get in or out, unless we have a valid reason such as work or a medical appointment.There’s also a perimeter lockdown on the whole region of Galicia until the end of this month of January. The region of Castilla y León has a perimeter lockdown too… until May 9.

In summary, there are perimeter lockdowns both at regional and local level, which means you could be fined if you get caught getting in or out of one of these areas without a valid reason. And doing the Camino is not considered a valid reason.

Under normal circumstances, Holy Years are very busy on the Camino. The number of pilgrims tends to increase quite dramatically. To give you an idea, the Holy Year of 2010 saw an 85% increase in the number of pilgrims collecting their compostela, compared to the previous year. If you’re looking for a quite Camino, Holy Years are not a good idea. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind the crowds, and entering through the Holy Door holds a special significance for you, then go for it! What type are you?

In any case, we’ll have to wait for the current circumstances to change before we can go back to the Camino.

A summary of this year’s opening ceremony

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